NORTH BETHESDA, Md. — With just minutes to go for each answer, the eight Democrats who would like to unseat Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, faced off at a legislative breakfast in North Bethesda Thursday. They ticked off their positions on everything from dedicated funding for Metro and the state’s transportation issues to where their baseball loyalties lie.
All eight candidates said they’d support dedicated funding for Metro. But when it came to Hogan’s plans to add lanes to Interstate 270, the Capital Beltway and the Baltimore Washington Parkway, several candidates took shots at his approach.
Former NAACP President Ben Jealous said, “Unlike Hogan, I will not be living in some nostalgia about the 1970s and that we should just keep building for cars.”
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz called Hogan’s road plans “a $9 billion fantasy” and criticized the governor’s approach to find cost savings in the construction of the Purple Line.
“He watered down the Purple Line, so now it’s the Lavender Line right here,” Kamenetz said, getting laughs from the audience at the Committee for Montgomery’s annual legislative breakfast.
But Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, who has been sharply critical of the governor, said Hogan should get credit for his ambitious roads plan. “That was a pretty politically great move. It was. I’m not really even joking about it.”
Baker said Hogan’s announcement generated conversation about the future of transportation in the state.
Then, Baker continued, “But then we’re going to have to talk about what we’re willing to give up. What are you willing to give up in terms of transportation dollars? Whether you’re in western Maryland or Prince George’s County, we’re all fighting for transportation dollars.”
State Sen. Richard Madaleno called Hogan’s roads proposal “a fool’s plan — and I will reverse it as governor.” The Montgomery County Democrat said it was time for a governor to come from the D.C. region of Maryland; the last governor from the area was Gov. Parris Glendening from Prince George’s County.
Madaleno added that roads should not be crossed off the list of transportation to-do items, but said there are alternatives to unclogging congested commuter routes. Referring to proposals from Montgomery County council members, Madaleno said, “Our council, for years, has asked for a widening of 270 from Shady Grove to Frederick, adding two reversible lanes. We could do that!”
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, a consultant from Baltimore, said everyone should have access to better ways to get from point A to point B. She said she’s a proponent of “complete streets,” explaining, “I want the streets to be for walkers, for bikers, for bus riders, for people who do drive automobiles and for people who take transit.”
Tech entrepreneur Alec Ross objected to plans to add toll lanes on the region’s highways, calling the proposals “malignant.” He said the tolls would price some people off the roads.
“If anything ought to be democratic, it’s the roads,” he said.
Saying he couldn’t believe it has taken so long for the Purple Line light rail project to move from concept to groundbreaking, Ross exclaimed, “We need to giddy-up!”
Baltimore attorney Jim Shea said the problem with many road and transit proposals is that they are often piecemeal. “And as a result, when there are improvements, as occasionally there are, they’re scattered, they’re isolated and you have roads to nowhere,” he said.
Shea added that there also has to be an emphasis on transit.
Krish Vignarajah, who served as policy director for former first lady Michelle Obama, said she’s not against boosting new roadways in the state, but added: “We have to think about the fact that we have a department of transportation here saying that expanding the roads is, at best, a two- to four-year solution.”
As the final question in a series of rapid-fire inquiries, moderator Josh Kurtz asked the candidates: “O’s or Nats?” He was referring to the baseball team allegiance used among some Marylanders as a litmus test of their fidelity to the Old Line State.
Seven of the eight candidates said they root for the Baltimore Orioles over the Washington Nationals. But Baker kept his baseball allegiance inside his home county when asked which team could claim him as a fan by answering, “Bowie Baysox!”
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